Friday, April 25, 2003

Bengals sign Palmer for $49 million


Heisman winner hitches his wagon to Lewis's

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals wasted no time in signing their future quarterback but will not rush Carson Palmer into the starting lineup.

PHOTO GALLERY

Palmer at Paul Brown Stadium
Palmer signed a seven-year, $49 million contract Thursday, two days before the Bengals officially make the first pick in the NFL draft.

Palmer flew into Cincinnati early Thursday morning from his Los Angeles home to sign, ending a negative trend that saw the Bengals' previous two first-round quarterbacks - David Klingler and Akili Smith - miss all of their rookie training camps in contract holdouts.

The Bengals took advantage of a league rule that allows the club picking first to negotiate with a player before the draft.

"We wanted to get that done so he would be a Bengal, up and running from the very start, even before the draft," said Bengals president Mike Brown.

Palmer, who started games in each of his five seasons at Southern Cal, is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. He threw for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns in 13 games last season, including the Trojans' Orange Bowl victory over Iowa.

He is the first Heisman winner drafted by the Bengals since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1976.

"It's a huge honor," Palmer said of being the first overall pick. "It was more important for me, throughout this process, not to be the No. 1 pick (but) to be in the right system with the right coaches and the right offense."

Palmer will play behind six-year veteran Jon Kitna, who enters the 2003 season as the starter. Kitna has started 27 games in two seasons with the Bengals.

Palmer said he had his first detailed lesson with Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese on Wednesday night, after the team overnighted its playbook to Palmer's home.

"I think in this first year, Coach wants me to get a good grasp of the offense and get a good grasp of my teammates and, hopefully, get comfortable enough to where in the next couple of years I can step in and start contributing," Palmer said.

Dressed in a blue suit, Palmer was accompanied to Cincinnati by his mother, Danna Palmer, and fiancee, Shaelyn Fernandes. His father, Bill Palmer, flew in from Boston, where he recently took a new job.

Palmer's agent, David Dunn, flew to Cincinnati on Monday to begin face-to-face negotiations with club executives Katie and Troy Blackburn and Bill Scanlon.

"Dave let me know," Palmer said. "He said they had this thing going in the right direction."

The parties worked out a seven-year deal that voids to six years if Palmer plays in 35 percent of offensive snaps in one of the first three years.

Palmer received $10.01 million to sign Thursday and will get an additional $4 million roster bonus in February 2005. The value of the first three years is $18.25 million, a 12 percent increase compared to the contract first overall pick David Carr signed last year with the Houston Texans. Palmer's contract also contains $9 million in incentives and escalator clauses that push its potential value to $49 million.

"Carson adores this game, and he wants to focus on the game as opposed to the economics surrounding the game," Dunn said.

Palmer, who will wear No. 9, is now the fourth quarterback under contract. The others are Kitna (who wears the No. 3 that Palmer wore in high school and college), Smith and Joe Germaine.

Palmer has been lumped with Smith as a one-year collegiate wonder. But a closer look at his USC record shows he threw for more than 7,800 yards and 39 touchdowns before his Heisman-winning season.

Palmer went through a coaching and offensive system change at Southern Cal and subsequently endured some tough times in the scrutinized program.

Palmer said he learned to deal with the pressure by not reading the newspapers or watching sports shows, and by focusing on his career.

He also said he would welcome the more sedate Cincinnati lifestyle after living in fast-paced Los Angeles.

Palmer was widely rated as the top quarterback in the draft, ahead of Marshall's Byron Leftwich and California's Kyle Boller.

Palmer is 6 feet 5, 232 pounds. He is known for his strong arm as well as his touch. He has good footwork and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds in his campus workout. He also did a 385-pound bench press and 425-pound squat and has a 33-inch vertical jump.

He talked openly Thursday about watching new coach Marvin Lewis make positive changes in Cincinnati over the past three months. The Bengals had the first pick as result of their league-worst 2-14 record in 2002 and have gone an NFL-long 12 years without a playoff appearance. Their record in that span is 55-137.

"The vibes I got from some of the players and everything I've heard in the media, everything's changed and everything's headed in the right direction," said Palmer, who made his only pre-draft visit to Cincinnati on April 12-13.

The question now turns to the Bengals' second round pick - the 33rd overall.

The pick figures to be the best player available at three or four positions where the Bengals need help: offensive and defensive lines, cornerback and wide receiver.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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